Ground Zero Mark Two
They were coming I could hear them. They wailed for no purpose because the one they sought to rescue was beyond all help. A flash of blue whipped round the corner. Dad was here. And on his tail in hot pursuit was the emergency response unit.
“What has he done?” Dad said gruffly, as he trotted up the front steps.
I ran into his arms with a painful sob. But in that moment there was no comfort on earth that could soothe away my agony.
“Where is he?” a voice asked.
It was the ambulance man. I pointed up the hall.
“In the bathroom in the end bedroom.”
Dad went off to join him. All alone I listened to their muffled conversation. More people arrived. I didn’t know who they were. I found I could not simply sit there anymore. I was in the way.
“He’s gone hasn’t he?” I said, appearing at the bedroom door.
“Go on out Sam,” Dad chided. He looked visibly upset. I stood just far enough away so that I couldn’t see, possessed by the notion that if I did not see then it couldn’t be real. My wish was to be blind to it all in the hope that it would serve as a barrier between me and this very bad dream.
But there were bits of him everywhere. The room, the house, my mind. Everything was full of him. It howled the message loud and clear that within these walls lived someone who could not cope. The hopeless chaos of his last few days lay between every wall and corner. The unmade bed, the unwashed clothes, the food uneaten and rancid. I saw it all now, but it was way too late. He was gone and he wouldn’t ever be coming back.
“This is all my fault,” I said blankly.
“You’d better take her out of here,” the medic told Dad.
“It’s all my fault!” I sobbed. My face felt like a screwed up rag. I collapsed against the door, unable to stand up.
“This is not your fault,” Dad said tearfully. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”
Before we left, the man in the bathroom had something to say. He came out for a moment and stood just outside the door.
“I’ve seen many of these my dear,” he said, in a sombre voice. “But there is one thing that I can tell you for certain. It’s never anybody’s fault.”
Briefly a light glimmered inside of me. Then it was gone, extinguished by guilt.
We went into the conservatory where there were two cane sofas faded from years of constant sunlight. The memories in that room overwhelmed me. We had spent many hours in it – watching our children play in our beautiful garden, giggling as they ran through its secret places. Above the raised voices of the emergency services I could hear the memory of their laughter echoing through time. This was our family room, the place that we loved best. It was sullied now by the darkness of this shadow. There would be no sunlight for us here again.
“Samantha, I’m Constable Hall,” said a voice, interrupting my thoughts. “And this is Constable Ellis.”
Breaking out of my daze I saw there were two police officers standing to the left of us.
“First of all, I want to say how sorry we are for your loss Samantha.”
This unleashed another tide of weeping as it brought home to me with unapologetic starkness that this was as REAL as it gets.
“I know this is not a good time, but I’m afraid we have to ask you some questions.”
In some unspoken way he made it clear that he wanted my father to leave.
“I don’t want you to go Dad. He can stay can’t he?” I pleaded.
“Constable Ellis will sit beside you, she’s our female liaison officer. We’ll keep this as brief as possible,” promised Constable Hall.
The female officer took my father’s place but comforting the bereaved was not her forte.
“We need you to tell us what happened today Samantha.”
He took out a note pad and waited for me to begin.
Surely he cannot be serious?
I dragged my ragged tissue across my eyes and tried to compose myself enough to speak.
“Take all the time you need Samantha.”
I nodded, unsure of where to begin because like footstep in the snow the details had already begun to fade and merge together. This made the telling that much harder. I broke down over and over each time I remembered anew. After I recounted the events, another set of officers interviewed me, sifting through every minute fact. I became dimly aware that they were checking the details against my first account. Hopefully this was procedure rather than an actual line of enquiry.
The house was full of people. My mother and father were there. They were overwhelmed by the intensity of it all. Our family doctor arrived. He took a peek at me crying and then rushed off to attend to Stephen. Some of our neighbours were there also. They came in and prayed with me. We were all in a state of shock.
Suddenly a man appeared beside me, younger than I, dressed in a very sharp suit. I had no idea who he was or why he took me by the hand. The tears in his eyes made no sense to me. But all the same I leaned on his shoulder and wept a steady river. The beads stood out like molten metal and rolled off the expensive cloth.
“I am so very sorry,” he said. His voice almost broke with emotion. Although we were strangers the two of us were in agreement that none of it made any sense.
He held me for a while then handed me a card. I was literally too blinded by tears to see what was written on it.
“I work for a private ambulance company contracted by the government to bring people to the mortuary. I want you to know that I’ll be taking care of Stephen today and that you can be rest assured that he will be treated with dignity. I also want you to know that I am on call twenty four hours a day and that if you need anything at all you can call me. This is my number.”
His compassion was so genuine. I could hear it in his gentle voice. I thanked him as best I could and he left me with the others. None of them knew what to say. As time went on I felt increasingly dazed.
“Make sure she stays in here while we move him,” someone said.
“Where are they taking him?” I mumbled, standing up to see.
There was a trolley being wheeled down the hall cloaked in a white sheet.
“They have to take him to The Royal in Belfast. In cases like this there is usually an autopsy,” someone said.
My stomach roiled.
The children must never know about any of this. I must protect them.
That was the first I had thought of them. My mind collapsed in on itself at the thought of telling them.
“Dad,” I cried, in an anguished voice. I gripped his hand and stared out into the garden at the bright blue slide and scattered toys.
“What? What is it Sam?” His voice was tender and raw all at the same time.
“What am I going to tell the kids?”